Understanding CBD vaping
Cannabidiol (CBD), which derives from the plant Cannabis sativa, has been touted for its therapeutic effects, ranging from providing natural pain relief to natural anxiety relief. CBD is also highly popular, because unlike delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the main mind-altering chemical in marijuana—CBD does not get you high.
CBD can be commonly found in supplements and even food where it’s legal to sell CBD products. To be considered legal, CBD oil must contain 0.3 percent or less of THC.
CBD products that derive from the related plant, hemp, are legal on the federal level, but they may be illegal in some states. (Hemp and marijuana are both Cannabis sativa plants, but hemp is a variety that has 0.3 percent or less THC.)
CBD products derived from marijuana are illegal federally, but may be legal in some states
There are various ways to ingest CBD, including vaping. Inhaling CBD produces near-immediate effects because it passes quickly from the lungs into the blood.
But this fast-acting mode of CBD consumption must be approached with care, experts agree. CBD vape oil available through state-licensed cannabis dispensaries is tested for potentially harmful impurities, but unregulated vape products can have detrimental consequences (more on this later).
Here’s what you need to know about CBD vape oil—aka “vape juice” or “e-juice”—and less-risky ways to inhale CBD.
What is CBD vape oil?
CBD vape oil is a form of CBD oil that’s mixed with a carrier liquid (to thin the oil) that has been processed for use in a vape pen. It usually comes in pre-filled cartridges that can be screwed into the vape pen, also called a battery, which heats the liquid to produce a vapor that the user inhales.
Similar to other types of CBD oil, CBD vape oil comes in three basic forms:
- Full-spectrum: This type contains other cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant, including THC.
- Broad-spectrum: This includes other cannabinoids and beneficial plant chemicals, but no THC.
- CBD isolate: This is the purest form of CBD and only contains CBD.
Benefits of CBD vape oil
Vaporizing means heating a substance until it vaporizes into a gas. Because you’re not heating it to the burning point, you’re avoiding byproducts of combustion like particulate matter, tiny particles of soot that can damage the lungs and hurt the heart.
Due to its quick action, inhaled CBD can be beneficial for heading off migraines, providing fast pain relief, and even quelling public speaking anxiety, says Bonni Goldstein, MD, medical director and owner of Cannacenters, a medical practice in Los Angeles, and author of Cannabis is Medicine: How Medical Cannabis and CBD are Healing Everything from Anxiety to Chronic Pain.
“The advantages are a quicker onset, for many people it’s much easier to dose, believe it or not, because if you feel the effects quickly, you’re like, ‘OK, I ‘m good I got my dose,’” she explains.
Risks of CBD vape oil
Potential lung damage
Unregulated vape products have been linked to a potentially fatal type of lung damage, EVALI (the Centers for Disease and Control’s (CDC’s) acronym for “E-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury.”)
Investigators traced a nationwide EVALI outbreak that began in 2019 and led to more than 2,800 hospitalizations and at least 68 deaths to an additive used in black-market vape cartridges, vitamin E acetate. Many of the cases were seen in people vaping THC-containing products.
EVALI cases are way down, in part thanks to a government crackdown on illicit vape products. However, in a 2020 commentary published in JAMA Network Open, experts expressed concern that other vape oil ingredients could be harmful to the lungs. Some cases of EVALI have been seen in people vaping nicotine-containing or flavored products, not just THC, so there may be other harmful ingredients.
Vape pens can get too hot
As the EVALI outbreak showed, vaping oils can be risky, and experts strongly advise against using non-regulated CBD vape oil. But even well-vetted products can be dangerous if you’re not using them properly. Vape pens can get so hot that they’re actually burning, not vaporizing, the vape oil, Dr. Goldstein warns.
“It’s been shown that these little pen vaporizers like the e-cig pen battery vaporizers, they’re really not vaporizers,” she says. “Although it may not be exactly like lighting the plant material on fire, they still heat up quite a bit and there are still byproducts of combustion.”
Potential harmful ingredients in CBD vape oil
Martin A. Lee, co-founder and director of Project CBD, a California non-profit that promotes CBD research, and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana–Medical, Recreational and Scientific, advises against using CBD vape oil, unless you’re obtaining it through a medical cannabis program.
“The way the oil is processed, they have to put all kinds of things in there to change the texture of the oil,” Lee says. Even legal additives, like propylene glycol, can be harmful when heated and inhaled, he adds. “If you heat propylene glycol it’s very dangerous, it forms a carcinogen, and this is ubiquitous in the vape world.”
And substances that are benign when ingested can be deadly when inhaled, Lee notes. “It’s perfectly fine to ingest coconut oil, but if you’re talking about inhaling something, you don’t want to heat up and inhale coconut oil. You can get lipid pneumonia.”
Also, since vaping’s long-term effects are still unknown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions against it.
Aside from the effects of the act of vaping, some side effects of CBD can include tiredness, fatigue, irritability, fluctuation in appetite, nausea, and diarrhea.
Can CBD vape oil show up on a drug test?
Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD vape oils can contain small amounts of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people “high” and that drug screening tests look for.
Because THC and other cannabinoids can build up in the body, regular use of a product containing even small amounts of THC can lead to blood levels high enough to fail a drug test.
If you’re concerned about the possibility of testing positive for marijuana, a CBD isolate is your best bet. Even then, though, you’re not 100 percent safe. “An isolate theoretically should not show up in a drug test, but occasionally you hear of situations when that happens,” Lee says.
Safer ways to inhale CBD
If you want to vape CBD, you may need to purchase a vaporizer and find some CBD-rich cannabis flower, Dr. Goldstein advises. Vaporizers that use dry plant material are expensive—from upwards of $100 for portable products to nearly $700 for a massive “desktop” version—but they are designed to produce a true vapor that’s free of combustion byproducts.
Because you’re using the flower only, you’re avoiding additives and adulterants that could be harmful even if they’re legal.
Some vape pens allow you to control the temperature, so if you are planning to try CBD vape oil, keeping the setting below 400 degrees Fahrenheit reduces your likelihood of inhaling harmful combustion byproducts.
Remember, err on the side of caution when it comes to CBD oil vaping and go to a reliable source. Be sure to check the CBD product to confirm it’s undergone third-party inspection, and has a Certificate of Analysis (COA) available to prove it.